As a student who grew up in a democratic and liberal environment, I was constantly told to be proud of myself and to stand up for who I am and what I believe in.
Earlier this week, the student government at UC Santa Cruz was set to vote on a BDS resolution. Daniel Bernstein, an elected representative of the school’s Stevenson College, was told by another member of the student government to “abstain” because of his connections with the Jewish community, as the vice president of UCSC’s Jewish Student Union. While this statement alone is problematic, the student also stated that other members of the student government were concerned that Bernstein’s election was part of “a Jewish agenda” and other Jews at the school had rallied together to get Bernstein elected to serve this agenda.
While forcing any student to vote a certain way due to their cultural, racial, or religious affiliation is in itself unbelievably undemocratic, the point I want to focus on is Bernstein’s so-called “Jewish agenda,” and its negative connotation.
This concept of a cultural agenda shaping a public election is nothing new, but to say that Bernstein has a “Jewish agenda” is questionable. Bernstein being accused of having a “Jewish agenda” makes it seem as if he would somehow compromise the democratic process or endanger the morality of Stevenson College at UCSC. Within the context of the BDS resolution, such a “Jewish agenda” represents a dark image of how Jews are viewed by certain groups on campus — an image that Jews at UCLA are unfortunately too familiar with.
When you Google search “Jewish agenda,” “ZionCrimeFactory.com” is often the first domain listed. This website is essentially a modernized version of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a compilation of texts from the beginning of the 20th century that depicts the “master plan” of the Jews to take over the world. The site includes sadistic categories to click on, such as “6 million” (questioning whether there were actually six million victims of the Holocaust), “911-masters of deception” (detailing supposed Jewish connections to the 9/11 attacks), and “lies about Hitler.” The site attempts to connect Jewish buzz words like Kabbalah and Talmud, as well as other Jewish texts, with world domination.
To be clear, my intentions are not to equate any members of the UCSC student government with members of the ZionCrimeFactory or other anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist groups; rather, I mention this site to prove how doubtful it is that Bernstein’s fellow student government members fear he would force Jewish law upon them, for instance, by banning working on the Sabbath or forbidding the mixing of meat and dairy.
Instead, they simply fear Bernstein’s passion for Israel. As a friend of Bernstein’s, I saw him a week before the message was sent and asked him about the Birthright trip to Israel he recently went on. His eyes lit up like Shabbat candles and he described Israel as a beautiful place that was rich in history — a place he fell in love with. As someone who spent five months studying in Israel, I could relate to his giddy excitement. The Israel he fell in love with was not much different than mine. It had nothing to do with chaos of Knesset elections, nothing to do with Babette Café on Shamai Street, and only partially related with spiritual reawakening.
His passion for Israel has become a part of his Jewish identity and if you would like to consider this passion a “Jewish agenda,” then so be it. However, to imply that he is driven by unjust causes and is untrustworthy, or that his very beliefs are not valid and should not be included in the conversation, is hateful. For Bernstein to not be allowed to vote on an issue that he is not only informed about, but also passionate about, is undemocratic. It is anti-Semitic. It is anti-peace. It is anti-justice. And, arguably, but most importantly, it is anti-conversation.
Ultimately, conflict cannot be solved without conversation. Although discussing Israel can be a difficult and complex task, we must be able to talk about it. After all, a democratic society is based in conversations and the exchange of ideas.